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In race for U.S. senate, Blackburn and Bredesen agree on push for rural broadband access

Both candidates running for Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker's seat recently voiced support to provide more people in rural areas with internet access.

Despite their differences as opposing candidates, Republican representative Marsha Blackburn and Democratic former governor Phil Bredesen do agree on at least one thing -- that all Tennesseans should have access to broadband internet.

Both of the U.S. Senate candidates campaigning for Republican senator Bob Corker's seat recently weighed in on the issue of rural broadband.

Based off recent data from the Federal Communications Commission, 91.1 percent of Tennesseans have broadband access with a fixed 25 megabits per second – with 98.3 percent of the population in urban areas versus 76.8 percent of the population in rural areas.

Blackburn spoke about it at an event in mid-August in Oak Ridge with community leaders, talking about the importance of expanding rural broadband and making sure everyone has access to the internet.

She said families should not have to take extra trips or steps to get everything done online.

"I cannot imagine adding that extra trip to and from a hot spot to get that Wi-Fi so the children can upload that homework and get that homework in before the deadline," she said. "That is what many families are having to do. That is why it is so important to be certain that everyone has access."

In a recent interview on Inside Tennessee, Bredesen echoed the sentiment that broadband was an essential tool for life today.

"A lot of rural places in the state do not have good internet connectivity. It is a fifth utility. It is essential to anything you do in life today," Bredesen said.

Differences arose between the two candidates when it came to the question of how to expand broadband access.

Bredesen said historically the Tennessee Valley Authority has been instrumental in rural development -- calling upon the TVA to continue that legacy and oversee the expansion of broadband access as a 'fifth utility' to rural parts of the state.

"It is essential to anything you do in life today. Let’s reinvigorate TVA. We’ve got an organization that’s got the size. It’s got 7,000 employees in Tennessee. It’s got the financial capability. It’s got the technical expertise that it takes to do it. Let’s put them to work,” Bredesen said.

Blackburn's strategy pushing for greater broadband access focuses solutions through the private sector by making it easier for companies to expand their services.

We've been removing barriers to entry at the federal level, increasing funding through grants," Blackburn said. "One of the things that we’re continuing to say is, 'Ok we’ve made changes. We have gotten barriers out of the way. What else do we need to be working on?'”

Blackburn said TVA should continue to stay focused on its core mission, rather than taking on the issue of broadband. Echoing that, TVA said it's not in the business of broadband.

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